Black Activism Examined During March on Washington Anniversary

Hazel Trice Edney | 8/27/2009, 8:08 a.m.

This week marks the 46th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Aug. 28, 1963. Nearly a half century since the march that drew more than 200,000 to Washington, D.C., Black activists contend that their commitment remains the same.

€I think that some leaders are now reluctant to engage in public struggle because President Barack [Obama] is in the White House. But, I would remind you that a public demonstration for justice would not be a march on the President,€ said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, president and CEO of the Chicago-based Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Though public demonstrations by Black activists have been scaled back significantly since Obama€s election, the intense focus on issues is still the same, Jackson said.

€In 1963, we were marching for the right to vote. Now we€re marching to the polls by the millions all over the nation. Activism, now, is the election of city councils and state legislatures, Congress and President of the United States,€ Jackson said.

€When you fight, you fight with the whole armor of God €" litigation, legislation, registration, demonstration. All of those are forms of fighting. Even in 1963, we had won the €54 Supreme Court decision, the €55 Montgomery bus boycott, and students across the South marched on Selma. Even then, we used litigation, legislation, registration and demonstration. We€ve always used several forms of fighting.€

Jackson admits that the current lack of street activism, that had resurged during the eight years of the Bush Administration, may be necessary to make ultimate progress on issues through the first four years of the Obama Administration.

Street demonstrations are not only still needed to fight remaining inequities, but to counteract the uprising of White-led right wing activism around the nation in the wake of health care legislation, Jackson said.

€The evidence of hostility is shown clearly in the town hall meetings,€ he said. €We are still fighting. But we€re winning. The reason why the right wing is acting so hostile is because they are feeling desperate. They lost the White House. We won.€

€Our agenda has not changed. It€s just that instead of having an adversary in the White House, we have an ally,€ Jackson said.

The National Urban League€s Marc Morial agrees.

€We have to be fundamentally realistic. Our constituencies voted for this President € Black leadership€s role is to support the public policies that we believe will benefit our constituencies. I think we must realize that personality politics, in my opinion, are [unnecessary] when there€s an opportunity to work along with a president for the shaping of public policy that benefits our community,€ Morial said.

€Having said that, I believe it€s important to recognize that Black leadership€s role is to hold every elected official accountable. And I sometimes wonder why people say we have to hold Obama accountable, when I don€t hear that kind of conversation from some people about the Congress of the United States, congressional leadership, about the governors and the mayors.€

Morial said it is much easier to work with a president who has been historically friendly toward civil rights and equality.

€Some of the fights and the pushing and the shoving takes place beyond the view of the media,€ Morial said.

€It€s not just about what we say publicly. It€s about what the results of the policies and the programs are.€

Morial said he has been working with the Department of Labor on finding green jobs and green job-training in the Black community in order to lower the Black unemployment rate.

Political observers have watched the first 200 days of the Obama presidency.
Dr. Julia Hare, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Black Think Tank, said while Black leaders should not treat Obama any differently than the 43 White presidents who came before him, there does appear to be a need for more activism on economic equity.

But, Hare observes there has appeared to be a fear factor in Black leadership€s reluctance to criticize the first Black president on issues such as the need to get economic stimulus dollars to the poor faster instead of to banks and financial institutions that caused the crisis.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, which now has 17 subcommittee chairs and four full chairs in Congress, said the president is doing a remarkable job given all that is on his plate. She said it is a relief to not have to fight like they did with the Bush Administration.